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Makinti Napanangka

Makinti Napanangka

1922 - 2011

Makinti Napanangka walked in to Haasts Bluff ration depot during the 1940’s with her young son when in her early 20’s and by the time she had moved to the new settlement of Papunya had given birth to a daughter. Having been uprooted after encountering white men while still young, she later returned to her home country as the outstation movement gained strength, and settled five hundred kilometers west of Alice Springs, at Tjukurla close to Mangarri where she was born. Although women had often assisted during the early years of the Papunya painting movement, painting had been considered an exclusively male project. Through the seventies, the male Pintupi painters had developed an austere and very precise mode of design that managed to convey the intensity of ceremonial artistry without revealing traditional sacred content. The success of their Tingari paintings in particular provided the funds and confidence that Pintupi people needed to set up outstations and return to their much longed for country. Like a number of her female tribeswomen, Makinti began painting independently many years later in 1994, when a women’s painting project was organized for the Haasts Bluff and Kintore communities. Away from their men folk and camped in a specifically female sacred site, the women re-affirmed their own traditional ceremonies and collaborated on large canvases that were soon to reveal a strikingly new creative charge. After the conspicuous deliberation of the men’s painting style, the women worked with a confident spontaneity that promised a wealth of new expressive possibilities. This event marked a major development in contemporary Desert art as many of the women went on to become full-time painters for Papunya Tula Artists and gained wide public acclaim. Makinti was by now in her mid-sixties and her bright palette, slightly impasto surfaces and loosely worked geometric compositions were immediately attractive to visiting enthusiasts and art buyers. Makinti’s gestural style and bold line work was derived from painting with her fingers dipped in earth ochres onto her clanswomen’s bodies for ceremony. The tactile surfaces of her paintings reflect this touching and sensing, just as her painterly use of colour and form generates a sense of celebration and movement. Through these haptic surfaces Makinti maintains her cultural traditions while the images serve to revivify the journeying of her two ancestral female ancestors, the Kungka Kutjarra as they dance their way across the country. Their travels follow the desert water sources and, particularly in Makinti’s art, Lupulnga, the rockhole where she was born and where her connections to her spiritual origins are felt. Small ovoid roundels, often in linear sequence, denote this crossing of country. “Care for country” is an important motivation for this bond as the water sources must be cleared of debris and sand to keep them, and the life they support, fresh and flowing. Towards the end of the nineties Makinti’s art began to focus more on long, loose linear ribbons of paint, inspired by the hair string traditionally spun and worn by women and connected to love magic, sexuality and allure. These bands of colour also hint at ‘the rhythm and movements of ceremonial songs and dances as well as the desert landscape itself’ (Ryan 2005). Dense patterns of curving lines predominate over smaller areas of tightly packed cellular shapes. Visual complexities tease the eye in an interesting overlap between highly structured areas and those that are painted more loosely. This more controlled approach coincided with a cataract operation that restored her failing eyesight and revitalized Makinti’s engagement with painting. Piling on the paint, she instinctively conveys her own sense of order amongst the vibrantly coloured profusion of yellows, oranges and various shades of pink. Her distinctive dabbing technique and long stroking brushwork carry over into rhythmic compositions that resound with an instinctive energy, full of life and enthusiasm. Although a tiny woman, Makinti commands a strength of purpose and a presence that has been vital in furthering the momentum of the desert painting community. She is recognized as one of Papunya Tula’s leading artists and in recent years has been named as one of Australia’s 50 Most Collectable Artists every year between 2003 and 2006 in Australian Art Collector Magazine. This recognition followed several important solo exhibitions held at Utopia Art Sydney in 2000 and 2001 and at Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi the following year. Makinti Napanangka, until her passing in 2011, was the most senior woman of the elderly group, who are widely recognized as the top Pintupi painters. While she was a key member of Papunya Tula Artists, and her name was listed as a director of the company, she increasingly painted for a range of dealers in Alice Springs outside of the ‘company’ during the last years of her life. While many of her works produced for these alternate sources are equal to anything produced for Papunya Tula, the market, currently deeply concerned about provenance issues, does not think them of as highly. This was underscored when in 2008 she was awarded the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award for a work submitted by Papunya Tula. While the award winning work itself may not have been her finest, those present overwhelmingly endorsed the award given the quality of her works over a sustained period. In making the award the judges demonstrated quite pointedly their own prejudice in favour of art centre provenanced works at a time when the public debate over independent dealers had reached its zenith. Makinti was a committed and prolific artist, whose work has been widely exhibited and included in many important collections. At the time of her death she was one of the most highly respected custodians of women’s traditional knowledge in the Central Desert region and the standard bearer for the women artists of the region.

While Makinti Napanangka appeared regularly between 2003 and 2006 amongst the '50 Most Collectable Artists’ in Art Collector magazine, her work varies greatly in quality  and became increasingly untidy from the beginning of 2007 until her death in 2011. Nine of the top ten highest prices are all for relatively large works equal or greater than 122 x 152 cm in size while the vast majority of her lesser results have been for relatively minor paintings or paintings with provenance other than Papunya Tula Artists. It was in fact a non-Papunya Tula painting which set a record for the artist in May 2005 at Lawson~Menzies when sold for $60,000 against a presale estimate of $50,000-60,000. The work was originally purchased from Central Art in Alice Springs and accompanied by a 40-minute video of the artist painting at various stages throughout its creation. This record was broken the following year when Sotheby’s sold a beautiful Papunya Tula painting Lupulnga 2003 in July 2006 for $72,000 against a presale estimate of $60,000-80,000. Still, with only 28 works sold for more than $10,000, all but a tiny number of her higher priced works have Papunya Tula provenance. Makinti's fortunes at auction have been mixed. In 2007 Mossgreen set a top ten record for a rather crudely executed Papunya Tula work in August (Lot 17) carrying an estimate of $25,000-35,000, while two extremely accomplished paintings carrying estimates of $12,000-18,000 at Sotheby’s and $35,000-40,000 at Lawson~Menzies failed to sell. In 2009, three works sold above $15,000, while she was the 9th best performing artist during 2011 with an impressive total sales of just under $300,000. In that year two new records entered her top ten. Sales between 2012 and 2014 were not good with more works failing than finding new homes. She bounced back however in 2015 and finished as the 12th most successful during that year. Thirteen works sold of 17 offered including an Untitled painting created in 1997, which set a new record for the artist when sold for $105,000 in Deutscher and Hackett's sale of the important Laverty Collection. The painting was atypical for a work with PT provenance and more closely resembled those created for independent dealers post-2005. Nevertheless it sold for almost three times its high presale estimate. Her 2015 results saw her rise from 45th most successful artist of the movement to 43rd. While only six of 13 works on offer sold in 2016, Lupulnga 2002, a lovely example of her finest works measuring 183 x 152.5 cm sold from the USA based Lucso Family Collection at Deutscher & Hackett for $54,900 (Lot 48) setting a new 4th highest record for the artist. 2017 saw middling results, save for a 122 x 122 cm work with PT provenance that sold for $26,840, exceeding its high estimate by over $6,000. Though nine of the 15 works on ofer in 2019 sold and she was the 21st most successful artist in that year, the average price of the works that sold was around half her career average ($9642). Nevertheless, her fortunes have been on the rise for some time and she is now the 21st most successful artist of the movement overall. Papunya Tula provenance invariably adds greatly to the value of Makinti's works, even though the quality of the image is often the ultimate determiner of value. Though her greatest output occurred during the last 5 years of her life, she had not begun to paint until late in life and her output was relatively small. Of the 242 works offered for sale the vast majority have been small and these have depressed her average considerably. Expect the prices of smaller paintings with Papunya Tula provenance to rise considerably over time and her major works to fetch an ever-increasing premium as the primary market for her work has now dried up.

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